Margaret Hodges' Saint George and the Dragon
Caldecott Medal art by Trina Schart Hyman
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
It just so happens that one of my favorite films of all time is Being There. In it, the character of Chance the Gardener is someone that every other character interprets (misinterprets, actually) according to their own biases.
A similar fate has befallen Saint George. Born in the 3rd century A.D., he has endured much the same fate as Chance in the ensuing millenia. We don't really know who he was, and so he has become a tabula rasa for churches, artists and authors to do with as they see fit.
In the gorgeous Saint George and the Dragon, author Margaret Hodges - inspired by Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene - gives old St. Geo treatment deserving of a legend.
Placing him "[i]n the days when monsters and giants and fairy folk lived in England," he is a noble knight. Lacking knowledge of even his own name, he journeys bravely from his own land of the fairies with Princess Una of England.
His mission? To slay the dragon laying waste to Una's land. It seems none of their own knights is up to the task!
Along the way, George manages to learn his own name (from a hermit on a hill), but the book's main focus is George's epic three day battle with the dragon.
Now, I don't want to give everything away, but let's just say that the winner gets to marry the princess and that her married name won't be "Mrs. Dragon."
Besides St. George, the book's other real star is illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, who won a Caldecott for her efforts. Brilliantly, she presents the story's images as if they were stained glass panels, thus conveying the status of legend on the story from the outset...
Each two page spread has on one side the text within narrow panels containing some of the story's iconography (as well as, it seems, some of Spenser's). On the other side, Schart Hyman presents the action, beautifully rendered in watercolor, the humans as striking in their detail as the enormous dragon himself.
Do know that the book contains significantly more text than a standard picture book, with a much more advanced vocabulary. Too, there is some small amount of bloody gore associated with Saint George and the dragon's battle.
(St. George appears scratched. The dragon loses some bloody appendages.)
Thus, make your own decisions about sharing the book with younger children.
Think of this as the action movie version of the Saint George and the Dragon legend, with a strong focus on the exciting parts, exquisitely rendered.
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